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Beliefs Into Practice: A Religious Inquiry Into Teacher Knowledge

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In the field of teacher knowledge, “beliefs” is a large term narrowly constructed. The beliefs theorized, researched, and discussed are beliefs about technique, methodology, curriculum, classroom management, professional development, and similarly.
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   Journal of Language, Identity, and Education , 11: 312–332, 2012Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1534-8458 print / 1532-7701 onlineDOI: 10.1080/15348458.2012.723576 Beliefs Into Practice: A Religious Inquiry IntoTeacher Knowledge Bradley Baurain  Briercrest College Inthefieldofteacherknowledge,“beliefs”isalargetermnarrowlyconstructed.Thebeliefstheorized,researched, and discussed are beliefs about technique, methodology, curriculum, classroom man-agement, professional development, and similarly. Spiritual and religious beliefs are for the mostpart omitted. This study argues that they should be included, especially because they already fit thearea of inquiry the field has defined for itself. Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative question-naire study is to explore how Christian ESOL teachers perceive and describe putting their personalreligious beliefs into practice in their professional lives. This study found that as a result of their reli-gious beliefs, respondents believed they should (a) act in a loving or charitable manner toward theirstudents; (b) respect all students as intrinsically valuable human beings; (c) teach in student-centeredways; and (d) witness to their Christian faith. Participants’ responses illuminate the interrelationshipsand interactions among personal and professional beliefs in the formation of teacher knowledge.Key words: teacher knowledge, religious beliefs, Christianity, spirituality, TESOL When I first delved into teacher knowledge , also known from various perspectives as teacher thinking , teacher cognition , and teacher beliefs , it was the term “beliefs” that caught my atten-tion. Here seemed to be a promising way to link different kinds of knowledge with pedagogicaltheory and practice. Alas, the beliefs referenced in teacher knowledge literature are beliefs abouttechnique, methodology, curriculum, student motivation, classroom management, professionaldevelopment, and similar concerns. One might occasionally find political and moral beliefsaddressed. Spiritual and religious beliefs, however, are for the most part omitted.This article argues that spiritual and religious beliefs should be part of academic con-versations and research about teacher knowledge, especially because spiritual and religiousbeliefs already fit the area of inquiry the field has defined for itself. Teacher knowledgeresearch explores how teachers know what they know and why they do what they do, that is,how they turn what they know into classroom practice. Borg (2003) defines teacher knowl-edge as “the unobservable cognitive dimension of teaching—what teachers know, believe, andthink  . . . [T]eachers are active, thinking decision-makers who make instructional choices bydrawing on complex, practically-oriented, personalised, and context-sensitive networks of knowl-edge, thoughts, and beliefs” (p. 81; see also Borg, 2006; Freeman, 2002; and Tsui, 2003, Correspondence should be sent to Bradley Baurain, Briercrest College, 510 College Drive, Caronport, SK, S0H 0S0,Canada. E-mail: bbaurain@briercrest.ca    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  r  a   d   l  e  y   B  a  u  r  a   i  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   3   1   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  BELIEFS INTO PRACTICE 313 especially Chapter 4). Though there seems to be no embedded justification for excluding spir-itual or religious beliefs from these networks, the literature consistently reflects scant or nointerest.Yet spiritual and religious beliefs demonstrably find their way into how teachers know whatthey know and why they do what they do (White, 2009, 2010). Elements of personal faith mightaffect classroom decision making, relationships with students, professional development prior-ities, and overall pedagogy. Faith and spirituality must be considered aspects of the “complex,practically-oriented, personalised, and context-sensitive networks of knowledge, thoughts, andbeliefs” (Borg, 2003, p. 81) on which teachers draw. An expansion in this area of the nexusamong personal and professional beliefs, identities, and practices is overdue.This argument is supported by a qualitative questionnaire study, the general purpose of which is to help expand current prevailing notions of teacher knowledge. The study’s spe-cific purpose is to explore the impacts of Christian ESOL (English for Speakers of OtherLanguages) teachers’ religious beliefs on their teaching philosophies, pedagogical commit-ments, curricular choices, and cultivation of student relationships. TESOL is a crossroadsfor interdisciplinary issues of language, culture, and pedagogy and thus serves as an idealsubject area within which to realize this article’s main argument. In the late spring and sum-mer of 2008, 23 members of the Christian Educators in TESOL Caucus (CETC) withinthe TESOL professional association voluntarily responded to an open-ended questionnaireon these issues. Analysis of the data they provided not only contributes to an emerging,fledgling portrait of Christian ESOL teachers, but also illustrates the interrelationships andinteractions among personal and professional beliefs in the formation of teacher identity andknowledge.Since I am a TESOL professional and evangelical Christian (Baurain, 2007), my researcherpositioning carried several tensions. As a co-believer, I was able to understand the research par-ticipants from an insider’s perspective. As a researcher, though, I also strove to “stand outside”and reach conclusions well supported from the data. To be and do both was a delicate balancingact further complicated by an imagined pressure from nonreligious readers to be hypercritical inorder to prove academic objectivity. In this project, I have sought this balance mainly by empha-sizing solid principles of qualitative research: ask good questions, pay attention to the responses,and let the themes emerge. Throughout this article, I attempt to remain reflexively aware of myown religious beliefs as shapers of my researcher knowledge, that is, of how I know what I knowas a researcher and of how I have turned data, analysis, and interpretation into an academic jour-nal article. In addition, given that diversity exists among Christians, it should not be assumedthat I am in agreement with the perspectives and opinions expressed by the respondents in theresearch findings. FRAMING THE ISSUESMorality, Spirituality, Religion To say teacher knowledge research has neglected spiritual and religious beliefs is not to say thatissues of religion and education have not been addressed elsewhere. Yet issues such as religiousstudies curricula or hot-button policy issues such as prayer in public schools, for example, are    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  r  a   d   l  e  y   B  a  u  r  a   i  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   3   1   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  314 BAURAIN of limited relevance in addressing the questions posed by this study. Even so, a brief survey of academic considerations of morality and spirituality in education can help to frame the issues.Morality and spirituality in education are fields of inquiry in and of themselves, though some-what given to building walls when the borders beg for permeability. Campbell (2003, 2008), forexample, argues that teaching is infused with complex moral issues and that teachers inevitablyhave significant moral influences on their students. This suggests that these influences need to bereflected upon and included in teacher education programs, as well as researched and added tothe knowledge base as a vital dimension of professionalism. Despite areas of overlap, however,she has little to say about spirituality or religion, either in her own theorizing (Campbell, 2003)or in reviewing the field (Campbell, 2008). Similarly, Hansen (2001), whose work runs alongcomparable lines, also makes scant reference to spirituality or religion despite using terms suchas call and creed  in his titles. Hansen (2007) has, though, edited a volume on key ethical thinkersin education, in which spirituality and religion are seen as playing important roles in the livesand philosophies of figures such as Paulo Freire and Maria Montessori. Nonetheless, the generalneglect of spirituality and religion in scholarship on morality in education is puzzling, particu-larly when as early as 1992, Sockett commented, “We do not know the extent to which teachersare more or less influenced by their religious persuasions when they teach” (as cited in Campbell,2008, p. 362).Along parallel lines, spirituality-in-education writers such as Palmer (1993, 1998, 2003) arguethat processes of teaching and learning are shot through with spirituality. All knowledge is ideo-logicalandintheendeven“seculareducationisacoverttypeofspiritualformation”(1993,p.18).Far from leading to sectarian intolerance, spirituality in education in fact necessitates pluralism,“because diverse viewpoints are demanded by the manifold mysteries of great things” (1998,p. 107). The Spirituality in Higher Education (SIHE) project at UCLA (http://www.spirituality.ucla.edu)attemptstoquantifytheextentandeffectsofsuchideasbymeansoflarge-scalesurveys.On SIHE’s spirituality measurement scale, 41% of American professors scored high , includingsignificantly higher percentages of women, African Americans, political conservatives, and thoseat religious institutions (Lindholm & Astin, 2006). Furthermore, faculty with high spiritualityscores, to a significantly greater extent than those with low scores, favored student-centered peda-gogical methods, a finding “largely independent of the faculty member’s personal characteristics,field of study, or institutional affiliation” (Lindholm & Astin, 2008, p. 199; see also, Table 3,p. 194). The conclusion: Findings from the present study reinforce the notion that the teaching methods faculty elect to usereflect who they are and what they believe . . . Qualitative follow-up research that is aimed at under-standing how faculty view their spirituality’s role in interactions with students and colleagues wouldbe especially useful. (pp. 198, 202) The present study looks to begin to step into this gap.What about religion specifically? Spiritual is a general term, while religious suggests affili-ation with an organized religion. These terms are by no means identical, yet among those whoscoredhighonSIHE’sscale,nearly70%alsodescribedthemselvesasreligious“toagreatextent”(Lindholm & Astin, 2006, p. 74). Elshtain (2002) asks, “Does, or should, teaching reflect the reli-gious perspective of the teacher?” and answers, “Yes, necessarily and always, because no deepcommitment can ever be shed completely when a teacher enters the classroom” (p. 193). This isnot a license for preaching or proselytizing but a recognition that teachers never stop embodying    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  r  a   d   l  e  y   B  a  u  r  a   i  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   3   1   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  BELIEFS INTO PRACTICE 315 who they are: “religious convictions, if they are robust and go deep, are essential, not incidental,to who a person is and to what a person does” (p. 200).In TESOL and language education, such issues have only rarely been raised. The 2001 TESOLConvention featured a well-attended panel discussion on “Faith, Values, and LanguageTeaching,” which included six presenters representing diverse religious traditions, including areligious nonbeliever (Scovel et al., 2001). Yet in mainstream terms, this was an isolated event.Johnston (2003) finds teaching ESOL to be an essentially moral activity embedded in teacher-student relationships, aimed at development through dynamic processes, and illuminated best bysituations in which moral values come into conflict. His book includes a brief section on religiousbeliefs that highlights the need for more research in this area.Several evangelical Christian language educators understand their work from perspectives thatput faith at the forefront and seek to integrate “secular” and “sacred” distinctions. These includemodels built around hospitality and intercultural sensitivity (Smith,2009; Smith & Carvill,2000);spirituality and social justice (Smith & Osborn, 2007); and service, humility, and peacemaking(Snow, 2001, 2004). Scovel (2004) suggests that faith-based characteristics of Christian ESOLteachers should include taking care with language, showing compassion and empathy, learningeagerly about the (God’s) world through research, demonstrating integrity, treating teaching andreflection-on-teaching as a spiritual calling, and being faithful and faith-filled in the classroom.These are helpful formulations, yet they are also theory or experience rather than formal research.Recent years have also seen a flurry of direct and indirect criticisms of (mainly overseas) evan-gelical Christian ESOL teachers. Secular academic observers have linked them with Americanneoimperialism, doubted their honesty and professionalism, accused them of inappropriate ormanipulative proselytizing, asserted that they are out of step with the field’s professional ethos,and questioned their epistemological ability to function in a postmodern intellectual environment(Edge, 2003, 2004; Johnston, 2009; Johnston & Varghese, 2006; Pennycook, 2009; Pennycook &Coutand-Marin, 2003; Pennycook & Makoni, 2005; Varghese & Johnston, 2007). Among thesereferences, only one project gathered formal research data—not from practicing teachers but frompreservice teacher education undergraduates at two Christian colleges (Johnston & Varghese,2006; Varghese & Johnston, 2007). An interesting recent volume has brought Christian and crit-ical pedagogues together in dialogue on these issues (Wong & Canagarajah, 2009). The factremains, though, that from a formal research standpoint little is known about the influences of ESOL teachers’ spiritual and religious beliefs on their professional knowledge and practice.What might be known is suggested by the recent work of White (2009, 2010). Her 2009 arti-cle posits that knowledge about religious faith(s) is necessary for the health of democracy and,specifically, that knowledge about how teachers’ religious beliefs interact with educational pro-cesses and students’ learning is an unexplored but urgent research priority: “We need to knowmore about how teachers’ own religious positioning impacts their learning to teach and peda-gogical enactment in the classroom. How are teachers navigating their own religious beliefs asthey choose and implement curriculum?” (p. 864). Her essay draws on multiple fields, includingmulticulturalism and identity theory, to make this argument and to pave the way for additionalresearch. White’s 2010 article takes the next step, using qualitative case studies of teachers inpublic elementary schools to reveal conscious and unconscious connections between religiousfaith and pedagogy and to propose a reflective framework for professional development. The“overarching goal” of her research and reflective model “is for teachers to enact equitable andeffective teaching practices with a diverse population of students” (p. 58).    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  r  a   d   l  e  y   B  a  u  r  a   i  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   3   1   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  316 BAURAIN Teacher Knowledge and Beliefs Teacher knowledge research itself has given almost no attention to the role of religious beliefs inshaping professional practice, despite how well these beliefs fit the prevailing definitions, includ-ing that of Borg (2003) referenced above. Freeman and Johnson (1998), to cite another example,recognize that teachers are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with theoretical and pedagogical skills; they areindividuals who enter teacher education programs with prior experiences, personal values, and beliefsthat inform their knowledge about teaching and shape what they do in their classrooms. (p. 401) The authors therefore argue for broadening the ESOL teacher knowledge base to include morein-depth and nuanced considerations of context, person, and process, yet curiously they manageto do so without mentioning spirituality or religion as domains of belief and experience.Throughout the ESOL teacher knowledge literature, doors to exploring the professional rolesand influences of spiritual and religious beliefs are consistently left unopened. Richards andLockhart(1994)spendachapteronteacherbeliefs,butthesearelimitedtobeliefsaboutlanguage,learning, teaching, curriculum, and the classroom. Woods (1996) constructs a model of teacherbeliefs, assumptions, and knowledge, but these are limited to matters of pedagogy, linguistics, andcognitive psychology. Gebhard and Oprandy (1999) speak of formulating “connecting questions,that is questions that connect our professional teacher persona with our personal, out-of-schoolselves” (p. 16), but the examples are limited to processes, such as learning new skills, that canbe linearly related to the classroom. Tsui (2003), who articulates a commitment to a holisticview of professional expertise, and who did her research at a Protestant school with Protestantteachers, nonetheless ventures few insights about the roles of religious beliefs within her study.Johnson (2006), tracing the sociocultural turn in language education, renews the focus on con-text, person, and process (Freeman & Johnson, 1998), and goes so far as to contend that languageteachers should strive to be transformative intellectuals who operate in self-aware ways fromand to ideologies that have both personal and social consequences. Again, however, the scopeof beliefs and values is limited, in this case, to gaining “intellectual tools of inquiry” (Johnson,2006, pp. 248–249).There are instructive exceptions to the tendency to define teacher knowledge only in termsof vocational issues. From critical perspectives, for instance, political beliefs might be treated aspart of teacher knowledge. Narrative studies make room for engagement with personal beliefs,yet one must read widely to encounter even the occasional paragraph on religious beliefs.One example of an exception to this rule is provided by Reeves (2004), who considers themoral and sociopolitical nature of equality of educational opportunity for English language learn-ers (ELLs). She takes a wide view of what her teacher-participants knew, believed, and valued inorder to dig out deeper roots of their professional knowledge and practice. One teacher’s idea of equality, for example, flowed from a moral commitment—he advocated a “tough love” approachin which ELLs struggle at first in order to maximize real-world opportunities later (pp. 53–55).A second example is found in Farrell (2006). In a study of preservice teachers’ metaphors, hedoes not shy away from a religious example raised by one of his participants. This teacher had“classroom as a battleground” as one of his images, at first as an expression of classroom man-agement fears. Later, he pictured a joint battle by teacher and students for learning. Finally, herealized that this image was grounded in his Christian faith, specifically from the saying, “Hate    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  r  a   d   l  e  y   B  a  u  r  a   i  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   3   1   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   2
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